Thursday, May 15, 2014

Merger with AstraZeneca will create a scientific “powerhouse,” says Pfizer - by Adrian O’Dowd

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: (Published 15 May 2014)
Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g3341

Concerns among scientists about a possible takeover of AstraZeneca by the giant US drug company Pfizer will be dealt with, MPs have been told.

Pfizer representatives, appearing before the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee on 14 May, said that the company wanted to convince the scientific professions and the United Kingdom that a merger of the two companies would create a “powerhouse” of science for the benefit of patients.

The MPs, holding an inquiry into the possible AstraZeneca takeover,1 said that UK scientific organisations had expressed concern about the possible bid and asked whether Pfizer had held any discussions with them.

Mikael Dolsten, president for worldwide research and development at Pfizer, giving evidence, said, “We have started to reach out and have had a number of meetings with key scientific leaders.”

Pfizer’s chairman and chief executive, Ian Read, also giving evidence, said, “Change is always difficult, and change creates anxiety. We only made the proposal two weeks ago, and we are interacting with the scientists trying to inform them of our plans.

“As we do that in the following weeks, and if we do make an offer, I think we’ll be able to talk to the scientists and reassure them of the strength of Pfizer’s science and the commitments we have made.”

The committee’s chairman, Andrew Miller, the Labour MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston, asked why the two companies were such a “good fit.”

Dolsten said, “As you get inside the two companies you can see a lot of opportunity for a powerhouse of science coming together.

“The companies have complementary drugs in lung cancer, and if you have a portfolio like that it can start aiding clinical development, and you could have an aspiration to provide much better outcomes for patients.”

The comment was in response to claims made by AstraZeneca’s chief executive officer, Pascal Soriot, on 13 May during an evidence session of a similar inquiry being held by the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee that a potential merger could distract staff and potentially delay some of the company’s lifesaving drugs from reaching the market.2

The Science and Technology Committee asked Read how many fewer scientists the combined Pfizer and AstraZeneca group would have if the deal went ahead.

Read said, “I can’t give you any definitive figures. However, we have said that we will put into the UK 20% of our global R&D [research and development] headcount, and I think that is an unprecedented commitment. This combination would make us the largest pharmaceutical company in the world.”

Later on in the session Soriot said that merging the companies would cause substantial disruption, adding, “A company is a little bit more complicated than putting two pieces of paper together. We have a standalone strategy that can deliver value to patients but also to our shareholders.

“Our pipeline has changed dramatically in the last 18 months. It has increased, and we want to stay focused on delivering on this pipeline.”

David Willetts, the minister for universities and science, also appearing before the committee, was asked whether the deal would be good for UK science. He replied, “It’s very important that we protect the interests of UK science. We are very keen to understand what would happen if a formal bid were made and press very hard on the importance of maintaining science and R&D activity in the UK.”

Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g3341

↵Jack A. US drug firm Pfizer seeks to buy UK company AstraZeneca. BMJ2014;348:g2986. FREE Full Text
↵O’Dowd A. Drug development at risk from proposed take-over of AstraZeneca. BMJ2014;348:g3327.FREE Full Text

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